Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name



Music Composition

Degree Program

Music with a concentration in Electronic Music Composition, MM

Committee Chair

Wolek, Krzysztof

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Ritz, John

Committee Member

Ritz, John

Committee Member

Jemian, Rebecca

Author's Keywords

Electronic; music; compostiion; max MSP; mixed ensemble


The Last Straw was composed for mixed ensemble and electronics. The main idea behind this piece is twofold: a) the treatment of the pitches, articulations, and dynamics shared between instruments and how they propagate out of phase closely resembles what I would have programed on various standalone synthesizer, and b) the processing itself is treated how I would manipulate various parameters on said synthesizers to achieve different sonic modulations. All instruments are amplified through a 4.1 sound system (4 loudspeakers and subwoofer) which is setup in a circle (see the performance layout page viii). Through processing via Max/MSP, the sound sources projecting from the speakers are smoothly panned in a circle (ambisonics), as if the sound is going around and round at various point in the piece. All instruments are also processed through effects (delay, reverb, and flange) which are treated as separately panned sources. The Max/MSP patch can be viewed from the following link, The file containing the complete contents for the patch is labeled “Master_Patch v.6maxpat”. The piece consists of three sections (A’- B’ - C’) which seamlessly elide together. The pitch framework underlying the A’ and B’ sections derives from the E minor pentatonic scale with a minor second in place of the third (F instead of G – E, F, A, B, D). The A’ section centers around the last 4 notes of that scale, not to resolve down to E until the B’ section. This resolve is even more reinforced by the crystal bowls, which do not strike or sustain an E until the latter half of the B’ section. As well as an almost agonizingly slow tonal shift occurring from A’ to B’, the desolate and droning sound world of the A’ section (I. Seemingly without meter) is disrupted by rhythmic density at the beginning of the B’ section (II. Slow but chaotic). There is intense interplay between segments of the B’ section, as if to both harmonically and rhythmically eclipse and converge back into phase (III. Coming back into phaseàIV. Slowly going out of phase) and depart into turbulent chaos (V. Terminally out of phase). The B’ section ends with all pitch material shifted upwards in some cases many octaves, and rhythmically in less murky waters (VI. Somewhat resolved). The last segment of the B’ section elides with C’, and the tonal kaleidoscope is turned to G minor territory. Though it is a subtle transition, it is a jarring refreshment that propels the relentless tonal and rhythmic turbulence with sharply bowed open strings, dynamically enveloping woodwinds, and challenging hemiolas (VII. Forcing change). The rhythms in the post-minimalist C’ section are representative of a well-engineered machine with the internal hemiolas of 3/4 over 4/4 over 7/16 and phrasal hemiolas of 3, 4, and 6 churning and hinting at a drastic forthcoming change of scenery and things coming to a head (VIII. MechanisticàIX. With certitude). This change brings about a more rhythmically and tonally straight- forward setting which fades away softly with what I hope leaves a sense of melancholia for any listener of the piece.

Included in

Composition Commons